Privacy breach payout to beneficiary delayed

00:59, Oct 10 2012
Gordon Holmes
AWARD DELAY: Unemployed Dunedin man Gordon Holmes.

Work and Income has delayed having to pay a Dunedin beneficiary thousands of dollars for Privacy Act breaches.

At a pre-appeal session in the Dunedin High Court this morning Justice Graham Lang ruled the Ministry of Social Development Agency did not have to comply with orders made by the Human Rights Review Tribunal ''in the meantime''.

The orders, which saw unemployed Dunedin beneficiary Gordon Holmes awarded $17,000, related to two separate breaches of the Privacy Act by Work and Income involving his requests for personal information.

The tribunal also ordered the agency's Dunedin branches to undertake a thorough review of the way it dealt with Privacy Act requests.

The Ministry appealed the tribunal decision on grounds the award was excessive, and also the tribunal lacked jurisdiction to order a review. It requested a stay of execution on the orders.

Today, Justice Lang ordered a full transcript of the tribunal hearing to be made available to parties as soon as possible. He set the appeal hearing for February 7.

A rescheduled pre-appeal timetabling conference would be held on November 8 to allow for a date of appeal, and time for parties, including Holmes, to prepare.

In court, Holmes told Justice Lang he felt the appeal process was being rushed.

The first he knew of the tribunal's decision was when he received a copy of it with appeal papers last week.

The original copy sent to him had gone missing and he was not aware he had been awarded the money. At least one of the pages in the decision he received was missing, he said.

The Sunday Star Times reported Holmes needed a magnifying glass to read, had no phone or email, and lived in a one-bedroom flat in one of Dunedin's poorest suburbs.

In August 2010 Holmes wrote to the Government agency wanting to know why a $3.73 benefit increase (known as the annual general adjustment) was not paid until May 19 when it should have been paid on April 15.

Work and Income misunderstood his request and did not bother to seek clarification, a statutory requirement under the Privacy Act.

The agency took almost a year to fully respond.

Under its own rules it is supposed to respond within 20 working days or seek a formal extension.

Holmes made another request in October 2010, for information about his previous application for a benefit supplement, known as temporary additional support, because he needed money for an eye test to renew his driver's licence.

A year passed before the information was eventually provided.